After years of playing box lacrosse, Ashley Heisler did not immediately fall in love with the sport's outdoor equivalent when she first tried it three years ago.
In fact, field lacrosse's bigger fields, larger goals, longer sticks and- gasp!-illegal crosschecks and slashes frustrated Heisler when she first started playing the outdoor version in Langley in Grade 9.
"I hated field lacrosse the first year," Heisler said. "It was awful. I felt like I was so restricted. It was horrible."
It's not so bad now that her field talents have landed the Sardis secondary student a scholarship at an American University with a Division 1 NCAA lacrosse program.
Heisler was just six when, tagging along to her brother's lacrosse game, she begged her father Dan to let her try the game.
Dressed in her brother's gear at the next practice, Heisler was instantly enamoured of the game. For the next several years she played on boys teams, refining her skills in the tight confines of box lacrosse. She only began playing with other girls in 2009, when she made Team BC's box team. It was soon after that that she made her first foray into the field game.
And despite her early reservations, Heisler grew to love the quirks and different style of game played outdoors.
"I started to learn the game . . . and I started to appreciate it more," she said. "Instead of a game of brawn and having to be strong, it's really a game of skill and speed."
But that history in the tight quarters of box lacrosse also has a fair amount to do with her destination next fall.
Canadian lacrosse players are prized by American universities for their stick skills and attacking abilities. The smaller goals and tighter confines of box lacrosse, where many Canadians get their start, force players to learn to pick quarters and avoid slash-happy defenders.
Heisler, who continued playing with the BC Lacrosse Association's Team BC program, was just such a player. So last year she and her father sat down, assembled a list of 30 possible American universities, and mailed a package including video clips of Heisler in action.
Soon after a January tournament, Heisler got a call from the coach of Canisius College, a 5,000 student university based in Buffalo, N.Y. In April, she flew east and spent a weekend at Canisius. There, she toured the campus, watched a game and imagined herself studying and playing at the school.
"I was blown away. It was incredible," she said. "I couldn't believe that I would be able to go to school there and play lacrosse with this team, with amazing facilities and with such a great support system for their athletes."
Three days after she returned to Canada, Heisler phoned the coach back and verbally committed to the school, where she plans to study international relations her first two years.
Heisler credits Team BC coach Naomi Walser-whom she calls the "driving force for women's field lacrosse"-for helping guide her progress over the years. And her parents also get some credit, especially her father who, so many years ago, dressed Heisler up in her brother's gear.
This spring Heisler played high school field lacrosse for Snohomish High School near Everett, Wash. Three, sometimes four, times a week, her father would drive her two hours to practices and games and two hours back. That high school stint eventually led to Heisler winning a spot in a Washington State squad that played in a national tournament in New York State.
This fall, Heisler is back with Wals-er and her Team BC squad, which travelled to Florida in November to participate in a major recruiting tournament. And while she's been practising a little closer to home, the long car rides continue with weekend practices in Richmond in advance of Team BC's participation in a Palm Springs tournament.
"I have to thank my parents for everything. I wouldn't be able to do anything without them."
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